The illegal party drug ecstasy is a potentially safe way of treating patients with post-traumatic stress disorder, according to a study published Monday in the Journal of Psychopharmacology.

The drug, also known as MDMA seemed to reduce fear among long-term patients enabling them to get more out of their therapy sessions.

The trial only studied 20 patients but the U.S. team has gained approval to complete a larger study in military veterans.

During the trial, which excluded patients with a history of psychosis or addiction, patients were given eight-hour psychotherapy sessions scheduled a few weeks apart. Eight of them were given a placebo and 12 of them were given a dose of ecstasy.

Two months later, 10 of the 12 patients given ecstasy responded to the treatment, said the researchers led by Dr Rick Doblin, president of the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies in Santa Cruz, California.

In contrast, just two out of eight patients offered a placebo showed an improvement.

There were no adverse effects from the use of the drug in the study, which was funded by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies. However, researchers will continue to follow up patients for long-term effects.

Psychiatrist Dr Michael Mithoefer, who led the study, said before ecstasy was used recreationally, psychiatrists and psychotherapists around the world often used it to boost therapy.

He said the therapies for post-traumatic stress disorder involved revisiting trauma during therapy sessions and are not as effective "if the person is flooded with emotions they can't process or they have emotional 'numbing'."

"But MDMA seems to bring people into the optimal zone for therapy and seems to help them process the trauma and not be overwhelmed by feelings."

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